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Milwaukee County officials lament lack of electronic monitoring

Bunking inmates at the House of Correction who could be living at home is costing Milwaukee County taxpayers an estimated $1.5 million.

In years past, the county had about 200 HOC inmates living at home on electronic monitoring, said Chief Judge Jeffrey Kremers of the Milwaukee County Circuit Court. But now inmates that could be on electronic monitoring are living at HOC dorms instead, he said, which cost about $1.5 million a year to operate.

Kremers attributed the electronic monitoring decline to Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke Jr., who assumed control of the HOC in 2009. The county’s Board of Supervisors asked Clarke to take the helm in 2009 to correct problems that arose under then-Superintendent Ron Malone.

Now the board and County Executive Chris Abele want to revoke that control, citing as one reason Clarke’s reluctance to allow electronic monitoring.

While judges can recommend an inmate be released on electronic monitoring, Kremers said, they can’t compel it. That authority belongs to whoever oversees the HOC, he said.

“It’s frustrating,” he said, “because judges know we’re not making best use of tools.”

Clarke did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Abele named Michael Hafemann, former head of management and operations for the Sauk County Sheriff’s Department security and jail division, as interim superintendent of the HOC on March 1.

Clarke sued the county in December, claiming the transfer of control would be unconstitutional. The county requested summary judgment and a hearing is set for April 18.

Brendan Conway, Abele’s communications director, said Abele officially won’t nominate Hafemann until Clarke’s lawsuit is resolved.

Hafemann said he plans to use electronic monitoring at the HOC for some inmates whose sentences include work release or programs at the Day Reporting Center and who otherwise would sleep at the HOC. He would not dictate a specific number of inmates that could be released.

It costs between $400,000 and $500,000, Kremers said, to operate a 60-person dorm for a year. Dividing that expense into a daily cost and distributing it over 60 inmates would put the daily cost about $22 a day.

But, Kremers said, that is not an accurate method to determine an individual inmate’s draw on the system. When the county contracts with other agencies to house inmates, he said, those rents have ranged from about $52 to $80.

If 200 inmates were on electronic monitoring, he said, at least three dorms could be closed. Those savings could be as much as $1.5 million over a year, he said, although some of that likely would be offset by electronic monitoring costs.

It costs about $6 a day to release someone on electronic monitoring, Kremers said.

“There isn’t a place in the country that will tell you it costs the same, other than Sheriff Clarke,” he said.

Hafemann said electronic monitoring is cheaper because then the county is not paying an inmate’s daily costs.

“You’re not feeding them,” Hafemann said. “That’s where you’re saving a lot of money.”

Some inmates pay to be included in the program, he said, which further reduces a county’s expense.

Milwaukee County’s 2012 operating budget included money for 250 inmates to be on electronic monitoring and 60 inmates were expected to pay to be on the program, although those numbers were not requirements.

The lack of electronic monitoring could contribute to higher crime rates in the future, Kremers said.

Inmates released on electronic monitoring are less likely to reoffend, he said, although he would not put a percentage on that likelihood.

Milwaukee County hasn’t studied how electronic monitoring affects its recidivism rate, Kremers said, and studies of other jurisdictions aren’t an apples-to-apples comparison with Wisconsin.

“There are as many definitions of recidivism as you can think of,” Kremers said.

If an inmate is released on electronic monitoring, he said, that person is able to continue working. But if an inmate is confined to the HOC, he said, he or she could be fired or lose housing.

“Those are all things,” Kremers said, “that contribute to higher rates of crime.”

Hafemann said he agreed electronic monitoring could lower chances for recidivism.

“If they lose their job, it’s a whole other issue,” he said. “What happens when they’re released from custody?”

In response to criticism from Kremers in July, Clarke said he disliked electronic monitoring because it didn’t seem like a crime deterrent.

“Crime without punishment is an invitation to repeat the behavior,” Clarke said at that time. “The purpose of a jail is not to have it empty. It’s to protect society.”

But Hafemann said an empty jail is not his goal.

“This is not to put the public at risk. The main goal is security,” he said. “I don’t want to make it sound like we’re going to open the doors and say, ‘OK. Everybody go outside.’”

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